Difficult Passages: 1 Corinthians 11 (part 3)
So over the past two weeks, I’ve looked at the difficult passage of 1 Corinthians. Most of the time spent on it is focus in the first half, which last week and the week before addressed. This week, though, I’d like to examine the latter half: verses 17-34.
What seems to be the issue of difficulty is not the instruction, necessarily, but the penalty for failing to keep it. Specifically I want to address the passage beginning in verse 27:
So then, whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord. 28 Everyone ought to examine themselves before they eat of the bread and drink from the cup. 29 For those who eat and drink without discerning the body of Christ eat and drink judgment on themselves. 30 That is why many among you are weak and sick, and a number of you have fallen asleep. 31 But if we were more discerning with regard to ourselves, we would not come under such judgment. 32 Nevertheless, when we are judged in this way by the Lord, we are being disciplined so that we will not be finally condemned with the world.
Is God that concerned with the liturgy of the ordinance (or sacrament) that he would punish people by sickness and death? Well, sort of. It seems, as in most of 1 Corinthians, that the issue is not the external worship, but rather the unity of the Church. As in the first half of the verse, Paul is telling the Corinthian Church that our worship should look different from the surrounding culture.
The pagan temple and emperor worship of Rome often included a drunken feast. There was a bit of “oneupmanship” as people tried to show themselves better than others by throwing more lavish feasts. Clearly, social distinctions were maintained, though, and the wealthy only invited other wealthy persons. It seems that prior to the celebration of the Lord’s Supper (or Eucharist or Communion, they are essentially the same) a big supper was held. This may have been because when Jesus initiated the practice, it was at the end of the Jewish Passover meal, and the Jewish Seder can put many an American Thanksgiving to shame. At any rate, this meal, often termed a “love feast,” seems to be where the drunken gluttony was occurring, while many of the poorer persons went hungry
For Paul, however, the concern is not necessarily the exact liturgy of the Lord’s Supper, but that certain people failed to “discern the body.” The body, in this instance, clearly refers to the Church. They had taken what should have been an act of worship, and turned it into a divisive and prideful activity. This was the problem. Even today, then, it seems whenever we shift worship to an occasion to distinguish ourselves, and possibly even when we eat without considering those unable to eat as plentiful a meal as we are, we are failing “to consider the body.” The Church is intended to be God’s Kingdom on earth. Because of that, we should be focused on the benefit of each other and the glorification of God.
What do you think?
And do you have a difficult passage you’d like to see covered?
Sidenote: it is possible to read verse 30 as a rhetorical question “Is it for this reason [this drunken, gluttonous division] that many of you have been afflicted, injured, or killed?” Possibly reminding the Corinthian church that their past persecution, which may have resulted in temporary pain, long lasting injury, or death, was for the sake of unity and Worship of God, not self-glorification. However, the verbal order does not make this the most likely rendering. Still, it is possible (and certainly not too bizarre a rendering). Part of the difficulty of pre-modern Greek is the lack of clear punctuation